Late in his career, the great American writer-director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo etc) is being shunted off into the twilight world of glorified TV movies.
These are available to download the moment they appear in cinemas and are invariably edited by his producers without his approval. Dying of the Light is very clunky indeed, in parts, and owes an obvious, seemingly unacknowledged, debt to Belgian thriller The Alzheimer Case (The Memory of a Killer). However, like all Schrader films, it also has plenty of provocative and original moments that hint at the movie it might have been.
Nicolas Cage plays Evan Lake, a greying, veteran CIA agent still traumatised by an incident two decades before in which he was held prison and tortured by Islamist terrorist Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim), who lopped off his earlobe. He has been desk bound ever since. None of his colleagues share his conviction that banner is still alive. Early in the film, we learn he has “frontotemporal dementia”. His mind is going and he is prey to violent mood swings. He is in a state of near despair about scandal and incompetence at the CIA. Banir himself, hiding away in Kenya, is suffering from a blood disease that will soon kill him. Schrader seems to relish the idea of having two adversaries who are so infirm locked together in a battle that seems pointless given that neither will live long anyway. In pursuing his old torturer, Lake is looking for catharsis but is also acting out of a sense of patriotic duty.
Dying Of The Light: Stills from the film
The plotting doesn’t make much sense but Cage gives a typically flamboyant and uneven performance as the stubborn old agent. One moment, he seems risible. The next, he’ll bring both pathos and ferocity to his part as a character raging against his own condition and “desperate to do something worth remembering with what is left of my time”.
Paul Schrader, 92 mins Starring: Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Alexander KarimReuse content